Asana is the Third Limb

Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.

_mg_6958-2Asana are the postures associated with yoga, such as downward facing dog, warrior I, and child’s pose.  While most people think of these postures when they think of yoga, Patanjali only refers to asana in three of the yoga sutras.

Asana is defined by Patanjali in Yoga Sutra 2.46 as “a steady comfortable posture.”  This sutra refers to the ability to hold a posture for meditation without discomfort. Patanjali goes on to direct that to master such a posture, one must focus on the infinite and lessen the tendency for restlessness. Yoga Sutra 2.47. This suggests that the purpose of asana is not just a physical one, but also a mental one.

While asana can provide physical benefits, the primary purpose of asana under yoga traditions is to prepare the body and mind for meditation.  The asana calms the restless body, and prepares the practitioner to focus the mind.  When practiced in conjunction with the other limbs of yoga, asana allows a practitioner to open himself and his body to enlightenment.

But that’s not the only reason to practice asana.

This is not to say that enlightenment and the yogic path are the only reasons to practice asana.  The health benefits such as strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina are important to feeling good and moving energetically throughout our lives. Further, many practitioners simply enjoy how they feel performing the postures, which is possibly the most important aspect of any physical or mental practice.

So, enjoy your asana practice, practice it consistently, and practice with enthusiasm. As you do, the physical and mental benefits will make themselves known to you.

The Second Limb Focuses on Spiritual Growth

Niyama

img_3620In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes certain principles that provide us with a framework for spiritual growth. Yoga Sutra 2.32 describes these principles as niyama:

Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and worship of God (self-surrender).*

Purity (Saucha)

Saucha refers to both physical and mental purity. To achieve purity, we need to be conscious of what we ingest, such as eating non-processed, nutrient dense food verses junk food and working towards positive development versus engaging in vices. At the same time, we use yoga practices, such as performance of the yoga postures (asana) and mediation to cleanse ourselves of unhealthy material that was previously consumed.

Contentment (Santosha)

Santosha or contentment is rooted in the present. When we focus on wants and desires, we are looking to the future. Similarly, when we relive past events, both pleasant and painful, we are looking to the past. Focusing on either the future or the past takes us away from the present, and it is only in the present that we find contentment.

Accepting But Not Causing Pain (Tapas)

Tapas is the ability to recognize that pain is a teacher.  It is in times of adversity that growth most rapidly occurs.  When we recognize that difficulties are inevitable and do not retaliate with fear or hate in the face of pain, we learn vital lessons that lead us further on our spiritual path.

Study (Svadhyaya)

Svadhyaya or study refers to many different forms of study, such as study of scriptures, nature, history, even the repetition of mantra.  It is through study and subsequent understanding that we ground ourselves, not relying on blind faith or vague feelings. Understanding provides the footing for balanced growth and a foundation against which we can check our behavior and beliefs.

Worship of God or Self-Surrender (Ishwara Pranidhana)

Ishwara Pranidhana involves the surrender of ourselves, the sacrifice of our selfishness.  It is the giving of our time, energy, and abilities.  It is in self-surrender that worship flourishes and enlightenment is achieved.

*You can read more about niyama in the book “Inside the Yoga Sutras,” written by Reverend Jaganath Carrera. The insights into niyama provided in this post are based upon this book.

The First Limb is Restraint

Yama

self-control-710228_640According to the teachings of Patanjali, the first limb of yoga is yama.  Translated as abstinence or restraint, Yoga Sutra 2.30 further describes yama:

“Yama consists of nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, continence, and nongreed.”*

 

Ahimsa (Nonviolence)

Ahimsa (also known as nonviolence) teaches us to keep our intent pure, avoiding hateful or violent desires.  It looks to what drives our actions, not simply the nature of the actions themselves.  Wishing someone or something harm brings us further away from enlightenment, even if we never act upon those wishes. To practice ahimsa, we must first and foremost purify our intentions.

Satya (Truthfulness)

Satya (also known as truthfulness) teaches us to be truthful in mind, word, and deed.  But what if our truth causes someone else to hurt?  In such instances, we must examine our truth, and our motivation in expressing our truth.  Is the motivation to benefit the other person, or is the motivation to benefit ourselves, venting our own frustrations for our own comfort? By examining the intent, we can discern when expressing our truth is warranted.

Asteya (Nonstealing)

Asteya (also known as nonstealing) concerns not just overt theft, but also the smaller indiscretions that face us daily, such as leaving work early or keeping something loaned to us by a friend.  Asteya teaches us to avoid coveting what we don’t have, because this wanting can lead us to temptation, and temptation can lead us steal, even in small ways.

Brahmacharya (Continence)

Brahmacharya (also known as continence) teaches us to avoid spending our energies on unproductive endeavors. Leading a life that seeks to benefit the world around us or that seeks to find enlightenment takes energy.  When energy is wasted, we are pulled further from the goals that we seek.

Aparigraha (Nongreed)

Aparigraha (also known as nongreed) reminds us of the importance of need versus want.  While it is often satisfying to attain what we want, that satisfaction often fades as soon as a new want takes center stage.  We end up wasting our energy (and thereby also violate brahmacharya) as we set off to obtain the newest want.  When we exercise aparigraha, we exert the energy necessary to attain what we need, reserving energy to work towards enlightenment.

Practicing yama is the beginning of our path to enlightenment.  Overtime, its practice should be our natural state, something we no longer have to think about, but that is one with our being.

*You can read more about yama in the book “Inside the Yoga Sutras,” written by Reverend Jaganath Carrera.  The insights into yama provided in this post are based upon this book.

Practice Yoga in 2017

When most people think of yoga, they think of the postures people practice, such as warrior II, downward facing dog, triangle, etc.  These postures are called asana, and while certainly an important part of the practice of yoga, they are only one aspect.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

img_3302In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the eight limbs of yoga:  yamas (restraint), niyamas (observances), asana (posture), pranayama (breathing techniques), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (focused concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment). These eight limbs provide a guideline for living a purposeful life.

Heading into a new year, many people reflect on the previous year and resolve to grow in some way in the new year.  Practicing the eight limbs can further these goals.  In the coming weeks, each limb will be described in further detail to help you on your journey. In the meantime, visit Orange Moon Yoga, and practice various aspects of the eight limbs with our experienced instructors.